Blog Directory CineVerse: Film is a state of mind

Film is a state of mind

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whether you consider it more of a comedy or a drama, it's hard to deny the charms and philosophies at work on Hal Ashby's "Being There," featuring perhaps Peter Sellers' greatest performance. There's a lot of substance packed into this film, and more than meets the eye, as demonstrated by the extensive discussion we enjoyed last evening at CineVerse. Here's a roundup of that group talk:

The irony and danger of being a human cipher: 
o A man who is a blank slate and non-entity who seems to stand for and believe in nothing, yet ironically impresses and influences many by virtue of his ambiguity. As put by Criterion Collection essayist Mark Harris, Being There is “the portrait of a man who relates to no one but to whom everyone relates.”
o Harris says the film serves as a cautionary tale, noting that “we invest people with unspeakable power by reinventing them as reflections of our hopes and our vanities, and it is thus terrifyingly possible for us to endow a complete imbecile who watches TV all day with qualities he has never possessed.”
Being cast out of the Garden of Eden: Chance is evicted from his longtime home and is forced to wander, until he is taken in by “Eve.” 
Evolution and exploration: The film uses a disco version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme humorously and effectively; the song plays when Chance has to, for the first time, venture out of his cocoon into “outer space” and explore a strange new universe.
Power and privilege is own often unfairly bestowed upon an undeserving but fortunate man who looks the part: Roger Ebert noted: “Because he is a WASP, middle-aged, well-groomed, dressed in tailored suits, and speaks like an educated man, he is automatically presumed to be a person of substance. He is, in fact, socially naïve.” Recall what the housekeeper says about Chance: "Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want."
The emperor has no clothes, but this is only recognized by the common man. Consider that street thugs, hired help and other middle- to lower-class people see Chance for what he dimwitted and unworthy of all the attention he’s receiving; but the upper class choose to see things in Chance that aren’t really there, indicating that they are as naïve and gullible as Chance.
Life is a state of mind, and ignorance is bliss: if your mind is relatively blank and carefree, life can appear carefree; Chance appears happy and content, likely because he’s ignorant, childlike and simple-minded.
Unbalanced, one-sided relationships: The characters who interact with and surround Chance grow and evolve or at least demonstrate that they’ve been affected by him; but we never get the sense that Chance grows, evolves, or truly connects with another human being. What’s going on in Chance’s head remains a mystery—the film’s last shot suggests that he remains naïve and oblivious to the world around him.

You could take it skeptically—that he is actually walking on a sandbar or hidden pier, which he may or may not be aware of; yet, from an observer’s perspective, it would appear as if Chance is actually able to walk on water and “perform miracles”, just as many who interact with him in the film begin to mistakenly conclude.
Or, you could take it literally, that he is actually walking on water from his perspective. Think about how Chance is so dissociated from reality and so brainwashed by television that perhaps, like the Road Runner who can run off a cliff without falling down, he believes he can truly walk on water because, as blogger Jeff Saporito theorizes, “he doesn’t understand his limitations. It is symbolic of his lack of restrictions…Throughout the picture, all of Chance’s actions stem from the honesty of his ignorance. He goes from a gardener to a confidant of billionaires to a presidential advisor to a presidential candidate himself, all without realizing. Chance walks on water at the end because he doesn’t realize he can’t.”
Or, Chance could represent a Christ-like figure who, like any other human, shouldn’t be able to walk on water, but is a rare breed who has the supernatural power to actually do so. Consider that we know very little about Christ’s background between birth and his emergence as an adult, just as we know almost nothing about Chance.
The fact that multiple interpretations are possible reinforces another of the film’s key themes: the nature of perception, and how we each see what we want to see in a character, which can differ from viewer to viewer. 

Screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey
Rain Man and the Laurel and Hardy movies (Chance is kind of like a cross between Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond and Stan Laurel’s quiet, bowler hat-wearing imbecile)
Forrest Gump
2001: A Space Odyssey

Harold and Maude
The Last Detail
Bound for Glory
Coming Home

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